We recently spent 8 weeks in South Africa and eSwatini and had the good fortune to go on a number of different safaris while there - some were self drive safaris, but mainly we were on guided safaris. Check out this blog post if you are wondering what the difference is.
There is also a question of what IS a safari, which seems silly to talk about, but came up when Jill was reviewing this post and had some questions about my list. Some people think of a safari as simply riding around in a truck looking for wild animals, and it is that. But a safari is also the broader experience of camping or glamping in the bush that happens before you even get into the truck. This is why #5 exists on this list. It’s something you certainly don’t need on the truck.
We honestly didn’t do any research on what to pack for a safari. Mainly because I’m just not the type of person to do prep at that level, but also because we carry all the clothes and equipment we need in our backpacks, and have done so for over three years now. We just don’t have space or desire to buy new things for new adventures. The exception to this is #6 in the list below. Read on for the rationale behind packing that.
Water. This is a no brainer, especially if you are on safari in the summer when it can get quite hot. Most of the safaris we went on offered water, but in countries where there isn’t decent recycling, I like to use my metal water bottle and bring my own.
Protection from the sun. In other words, sun screen. But sometimes your safari vehicle isn’t covered, in which case you should have a hat and some long sleeves. The sun can be brutal at any time of the day in South Africa.
Hand sanitizer. You may find yourself in a situation where there is no running water, as we did on a few occasions. I’m not saying that hand sanitizer is a substitute for actually washing your hands, but sometimes you just need a quick blast of antibacterial you know? It also works to temporarily relieve the itching from bug bites. Which reminds me that no safari packing list is complete without:
Bug spray. Not only are mosquito bites annoying as hell and should be avoided just on that basis, but malaria is a real thing in much of the places you’ll be on safari. We were in Kruger, and reportedly there isn’t malaria there, but you just never know. Bring the bug spray with you on safari. You won’t regret it. I usually bring the strong stuff with a level of deet (I know, ew) because it really works, but we couldn’t find any so in a pinch bought some natural bug spray and it seemed to work quite well.
Headlamp/Torch. When on safari, you are more likely to find yourself without light than without water. I don’t know how many times we had to walk back to our tent or our hut in complete darkness, and you never know what’s lurking out there in the bush. One of the biggest threats we saw were tiny little toads that would cross the sidewalk after dark. Nobody wants to step on a tiny toad, but you also don’t want to trip on a root or get eaten by a lion, right?
Camera. We travel light and for the past three plus years of full time travel, we’ve gotten by quite nicely using just our iPhones to document everything. Fun fact: all the pictures on this site are taken on our iPhones! Until we got to Johannesburg and started to question the wisdom of coming on a safari in Africa without a real camera. So we debated and debated and finally bought one. And have hardly used it since we left South Africa, tbh. But you might be different. You may be one of those camera junkies like we saw all over SA. You know the type whose camera is so big they can’t hold it and it needs a tripod? Those people LOVE safari. They live for it. So bring a camera. You won’t regret it.
Comfortable shoes. We only walked out in the bush once or twice on what could be called a walking safari. The first time we were looking for birds and got up at the crack of dawn to walk around looking into trees and in the low brush. We didn’t walk far and the terrain was moderate, so our shoes weren’t really in question here. The second time we were out was a similar situation, although we were encountering rhinos. In neither situation would we have been served well by flip flops, mainly due to the thorny bushes we walked over and around.
Practical clothes. This is totally subjective, yes. We’ve seen women wearing sparkly house slippers or high heeled shoes on short hikes, and while they may look good, they were most definitely in pain. I’m not going to tell you to not wear a sleeveless shirt if that’s what you think is practical, nor am I advising you to dress like Jack Hannah with mesh venting strips on every shirt and a wide brimmed hat with pockets and a mosquito net. We were told on several occasions to wear light colored clothing both to deflect the heat and to not startle the animals.
All in all, your safari packing list should include anything that makes you comfortable. If you hate hats, bring a scarf. If you need to travel with your own pillow, do that. If you have to have your giant camera with you, by all means. Just be good to yourself and respectful of the animals you are visiting.